The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) participated in the orientation for Presbyterian delegation to the 58th Session to the Commission on the Status of Women.
After being in New York, he flew to Whitworth University in Spokane, WA for the Third Moderator’s Conversation on Unity with Difference on Race, Gender, and Religious Differences.
The Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz was among the speakers at the conversation. As always, Laura made an insightful, challenging, hopeful presentation on Power and the Black-White Binary: Forging Authentic Church Identities in the Midst of White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Being “Other Asian”.
Laura provides the following summary of her presentation:
Being church together is challenged by the ways in which various church communities and individual church members interact with power based on race and gender, not to mention class status and regional identity. The church, particularly the PC(USA), includes people with diverse capacities for a real conversation. Through exploring the place of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (who in the PC(USA) can check either “Korean” or “Other Asian” for demographic information on some forms) and others dislocated by the black-white binary in church and U.S. society, together we seek a way to move forward toward being a church that allows for complexities of identity and addresses real inequalities.
Race and gender themselves are not the problems obstructing unity. The problems here are racism and sexism. Who we are isn’t the problem, but how we live into oppressive constructs that separate us from one another is. What I will say this morning is part of a longer conversation we in the church need to have with one another, because even though we have been in this conversation for decades, we have yet to diminish our capacity to sin when it comes to relationship with one another.
Our conversation cannot depend upon a generic experience of racism (usually defined by blackness) or sexism (usually defined by middle-aged white women) imposed upon other experiences. Racism is not just about color. It is also about language, culture, colonialism, national origin, and citizenship status. Sexism is not just about how many women get to be heads of staff of tall steeple churches or directors of church agencies. It is about how we continue to think about gender identity and gender roles, and how those thoughts are embedded in our culture and our policies. It is about earning potential; church policies around work hours, compensation, and family leave; about how well churches minister to the lived realities of women in their employ and women who choose to be part of churches. It is about the culture of church leading change in the culture of this country instead of propping up legal and cultural patriarchy.
Social issues are theological. It is a theological problem if Christians believe employment opportunity for those with varying levels of education, immigration, the criminal justice system, gun control, political gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, the financial services sector, hunger, poverty, and economic inequality are not the business of the church. These are things that have a disproportionate impact on the lives of people of color. These are the problems that keep us from attaining a shot at racial justice. These are the problems that shape our lives because we’re always negotiating with banks to allow our in-laws to keep their homes, or finding lawyers so our mothers can stay in the country, or finding people to write letters attesting to the character of our wrongfully accused sons, or looking for ways to feed our families. We have to worry about elected officials who don’t look like us or care about our communities. This takes up a lot of time and energy, and it is our faith that keeps us going. These are the circumstances we bring with us to church every single Sunday.
Laura also identifies resources for further conversations:
I have read Laura’s presentation
several times. I will read it several more as I seek ways to respond to her invitation and challenge:
So if we of varying races, genders, and religious groups show up for each other, and if we of varying spiritual gifts show up for each other, maybe that is a way of finding how to be authentically church. Maybe that is how we can create change.
See you along the Trail.